"I really like this team."
University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino made a variation of that comment multiple times during the ACC Kickoff held at the historic Pinehurst Resort the past two days.
There is areas of concern for this year's Cardinals and Petrino is aware of the challenges ahead. He was reminded of the hurdles throughout his two sessions visiting with the collected mass of ACC media and each was met with a positive return.
Replacing a large group of departed players, including 10 that were NFL Draft selections will certainly be a challenge.
"We're proud of the fact that we had 10 guys drafted, another four or five free agents," Petrino said. "But the fact of the matter is we had 23 seniors, we had three juniors that came out early. That's a lot of players to replace. Our players see it as opportunity. The young guys have an opportunity to come in and compete and play right away. I feel like we have to do a great job of coaching, a great job of teaching, maybe make sure we don't ask them to do too much. I think the number one way you win is you don't beat yourself. It's up to us as coaches to make sure we don't try to do too much and we don't beat ourselves with mistakes so we have an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. Our players are confident."
Also among the questions was the glaring need to reduce the number of sacks, an area where the team finished next to last in the league a year ago. While the offensive front will be youthful, Petrino likes the talent he's assembled and expects 10 or 11 to compete for a starting spot during early weeks of fall camp.
"We need to be a better first down offense, be more successful on first and second so we're not behind the sticks and in the third down situations," Petrino said. "We are going to be inexperienced on the offensive front. That's something that is obviously a concern for us going in, but I do like our talent there and I do like the size and strength we have there. We just have to do a great job of teaching and getting them ready to play and do it very early."
He addressed the need to find play-makers at receiver to replace the production of DeVante Parker, the continued search for a starting quarterback and rebuilding the entire starting secondary. Petrino views each as an opportunity for his team to improve.
Louisville was picked to finish third in the ACC Atlantic, a division that has been dominated Clemson and Florida State in recent years. Receiving just one first place vote and none among the projected champions, Petrino is prepping his team to change that trend. That task will happen quickly, as the Cardinals host Clemson, the preseason ACC favorite, just 12 days into the 2015 season.
"I think it's up to us to make a difference in it," said Petrino. "Obviously with Florida State winning a national championship, Clemson having the success they've had, the wins in the bowl game, we have to go out and beat them on the field."